TORONTO -- With plenty of positional questions left to be answered and pitching to be acquired, one area of strength for the Blue Jays this season was behind the dish. But how will Toronto utilize its catchers?
The answer to that question and more highlights this week’s Canadian Thanksgiving edition of the Inbox.
When Reese McGuire joined the Blue Jays' roster at the end of July, the 24-year-old catcher had no doubt that he could excel at the highest level, but there were few others who could have foreseen a .299/.346/.526 slash line with five homers, seven doubles and 11 RBIs in McGuire’s 30 big league games, especially after he didn't fare well statistically at Triple-A Buffalo.
• McGuire makes case for more permanent role
“I didn’t like him on both sides of the ball in Buffalo, but that’s why you keep an open mind,” one scout said. “Not only was he hot up there in a way, but he showed some bat speed. He can drive the ball, he showed some power, and with the athleticism, he’s going to be fine behind the plate because he has good hands and feet, and arm strength.”
While McGuire certainly began to make his case to the Blue Jays’ brass, the strides Danny Jansen made behind the plate are also in the conversation. And though the 24-year-old struggled at the dish, hitting .207/.279/.360 with 13 homers, 12 doubles and a triple in 107 games, Jansen's numbers are skewed by an incredibly difficult start to the season, which he’s learned from and hopes to use as he moves forward.
“I hold myself to a very high standard, but when I wasn’t playing well, I was still getting thrown in the lineup and I was able to learn,” Jansen said. “I’ve learned so much about myself, knowing I can be here, I can make a difference, I can make an impact, and I can be one of the best catchers in the game. I want to be. I want to win a Gold Glove, I want to win a World Series.”
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo enjoyed getting to know his young backstops and see them split time at the end of the season, and he indicated that while there is a possibility to use a tandem catching system, “It’s an open competition.” -- Alexis
What player do you think will surprise in Spring Training and earn a job? Is there another bunch of rookies like this year’s to watch out for?
-- Allan F.
There won’t be another wave like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in 2020, but it’s coming eventually. The Blue Jays’ Top 10 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline in the lower Minors features No. 2 Jordan Groshans and No. 3 Alek Manoah.
When looking for Top 30 prospects who will get a look in Spring Training, the list shrinks a bit. Infielder Kevin Smith (No. 13) is coming off a down season in Double-A after a strong 2018 campaign, but the organization remains high on him. Right-handers Patrick Murphy (No. 17), Hector Perez (No. 22) and Yennsy Diaz (No. 23) also bring plenty of raw arm talent, but it would be a surprise to see them crack the Opening Day roster.
Will Anthony Kay step up as a legitimate, mid-rotation starter as early as next spring? Will Trent Thornton carry over his late-season success and become a more consistent rotation option? Will Ryan Borucki hit the ground running and show more of what he did in 2018? Surprised might be too strong, but any of those would qualify as a “welcome development” for the Blue Jays, let’s say.
The 102-mph throwing elephant in the room, of course, is Nate Pearson, the No. 1 prospect in the organization and No. 10 in Major League Baseball. Like Vladdy in 2019, Pearson will be the story of the spring in 2020. No pitcher in the organization rivals his talent and, while it’s likelier that he starts the season in Triple-A, it will surprise no one when he mows through the Grapefruit League. -- Keegan
The Blue Jays will look to acquire players through trades and free agency, as they aim to bolster the young core they displayed throughout the season. General Manager Ross Atkins indicated that first base is one area where the club might continue searching for some versatility, and he didn’t rule out any potential options.
“[Justin] Smoak will remain an option,” Atkins said of the impending free agent. “It would be nice to consider alternatives that are more flexible, and play other positions as well. We’ll have to factor that in as we acquire position players, how that impacts playing time for certain individuals and their continued growth and development.” -- Alexis
With Boston apparently looking to shed payroll, is there any realistic cupboard raiding the Blue Jays could do?
-- Mike, Edmonton, AB
A handful of high-payroll teams will be looking to shed salary as they retool on the fly, Boston included, which puts the Blue Jays in an advantageous position. We focus so much on players and prospects, but dollars and cents can be just as important on the trade market.
Mookie Betts is the obvious name that fans will dream on, but they’ll be dreaming on him in 28 other markets, too. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. could be a surprise non-tender candidate and the Red Sox are expected to be creative, so never say never. I think the Red Sox are better used, though, as an example of a wider strategy the Blue Jays could use over the next few months.
Let’s use Randal Grichuk as an example. The Blue Jays actively targeted Grichuk, but one factor that contributed to the deal was his increasing price tag via arbitration. The Blue Jays bought in, trading prospect Conner Greene and reliever Dominic Leone, and liked what they saw enough to hand Grichuk a five-year, $52 million extension just over a year later. Can the Blue Jays find a legitimate piece on a heavy contract or entering a big arbitration jump?
Given the size and scope of modern front offices, it’s hard to outsmart everyone else on the free agent or trade markets. Advantages are still very real, though, and the Blue Jays have one in their financial flexibility. If you’re a team looking to shed salary via trade this offseason, one of the first things you’re doing is placing a call to 1 Blue Jays Way in Toronto. -- Keegan
Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.
Alexis Brudnicki is a Canada-based Baseball Development and Special Projects reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.